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Rabindranath Tagore’s Chitra is a drama on the theme of true love. This lyrical play is a work of supreme art that has immense use of symbols and poetical language. Tagore is known for his aesthetic and pantheistic attitude and his spiritually inclined mind. His conception of human love finds a beautiful expression in Chitra. The play adapts part of the story from the Mahabharata and centres upon the character of Chitrangada (Chitra), a female warrior who tries to attract the attention of Arjuna. It is a fine example of the Tagorean philosophy of truth and illusion. It highlights how human love shifts from the physical to the spiritual, from transience to permanence, from romanticism to realism.

Chitra is a dramatic sermon on the theme of true love. Arjuna, the Pandava prince spurns the princess Chitra, the daughter of the King of Manipur. Later when transformed into a beautiful damsel by a boon from the God of Love and the god of Spring she approaches Arjuna again. He is infatuated. But Chitra conquers her unease by boldly revealing the truth about her. The false woman redeems herself as the true mother-to-be. The sensual is transcended in the spiritual, and the union is consecrated at last. Thus, Tagore’s Chitra has a compact and neat structure. His principal characters tend to be symbolic. His setting is invariably non-realistic.

The play begins with Chitra beginning a conversation with Madana, the god of love, and Vasanta, the god of springtime and eternal youth. They ask Chitra who she is and what is bothering her, to which she replies that she is the daughter of the King of Manipur and has been raised like a boy as her father had no male heir. She is a great warrior and hero despite being born as a woman, but has never had the chance to truly live as a woman or learn how to use “feminine wiles”. Chitra explains that she had met the warrior hero Arjuna after seeing him in the forest while she was hunting for a game. Despite knowing that he had pledged several vows including one for 12 years of celibacy, Chitra fell instantly in love with him. The following day she tried to approach him and plead her case, but Arjuna turned her away due to his vows. Chitra begs the two gods to give her a day of perfect beauty so she can win over Arjuna and have just one night of love with him. Moved by her pleas, the two gods give her not just one day but an entire year to spend with Arjuna.

The next scene opens with Arjuna marvelling over the perfect beauty he has seen. Chitra, the beauty of which he mentions, enters and Arjuna immediately strikes up a conversation with her. He requests to know what she is searching for, to which Chitra coyly replies that she is seeking the man of her desires. The two go back and forth until Chitra admits that she is looking for him, which prompts Arjuna to say that he will no longer hold to his vows of chastity. Chitra is extremely unhappy since he is not falling for her true self and tells him not to offer his heart an illusion.

Later the next day, Chitra admits to Madana and Vasanta that she had spurned Arjuna due to him falling for what she saw as a false image of herself. The two gods scold her as they had only given her what she had asked of them. Chitra replies that despite their gift, she sees the perfect beauty as a being separate from herself and that even if she had slept with Arjuna, it would not be the true her that he loved- only her beauty. Vasanta advises Chitra to go to Arjuna and spend the year with him and that at the year’s end Arjuna will be able to embrace the true Chitra once the spell of perfect beauty is gone. Chitra does so, but throughout their year together she assumes that Arjuna will not love her once the year is up. After much time has passed, Arjuna begins to grow restless and longs to hunt once again. He also begins to ask Chitra questions about her past, wondering if she has anyone at home that is missing her. Chitra remarks that she has no past and that she’s as transient as a drop of dew, which upsets Arjuna. With the year approaching its end, Chitra asks that the two gods make her last night her most beautiful, which they do.

However, around the same time, Arjuna hears tales of the warrior Princess Chitra and begins to wonder what she might be like. Never having told him her name, Chitra assures Arjuna that he would never have noticed Chitra if he had passed by her and tries to coax him into bed. Arjuna declines, saying that some villagers have informed him that Manipur is under attack. Chitra assures him that the city is well protected but to no avail. Arjuna’s mind is occupied with thoughts of the princess, to which Chitra bitterly asks if he would love her more if she were like the Princess Chitra he admires. Arjuna replies that since she has always kept her true self a secret, he has never truly grown to love her as much as he could and that his love is “incomplete”. Noticing that this upsets her, Arjuna tries to console his companion.

The play ends with Chitra finally admitting to Arjuna that she is the princess of which he spoke of and that she begged for beauty to win him over. She admits that she is not a perfect beauty, but that if he would accept her then she would remain with him forever. Chitra also admits that she is pregnant with his son. Arjuna meets this news with joy and states that his life is truly full.

Chitra is a powerful work on the psychological tension of a woman caught between her patience and realization of the importance of physical charm. The most dominant feature of the play, however, is the assertion of equality of women. Tagore has made Chitra an extremely poignant drama. When Arjuna develops a liking for Chitra, the huntress, Chitra expresses her knowledge of the male psyche and reveals the social discrimination in our society. She asks Arjuna in sarcasm whether a woman is merely a woman when she winds herself around men’s hearts with her smiles, sobs, services and caressing endearments or when a woman exhibits her learning and achievement. This question of Chitra is very significant as it throws light on our social attitudes towards women. It is taken for granted that a woman is supposed to take care of the man and her primary duty is to entertain him. A man’s responsibilities as such do not ever equal that of a woman. The man may do whatever he desires to do. Neither is he supposed to take care of a woman’s emotions and nor does he hold dependability in the rearing up of a child. The woman has to behave according to his whims and prejudices. But the man may behave according to his likes and dislikes. Moreover, the man tends towards not being very appreciative of a woman’s accomplishments apart from the wealth of her physical details.

Chitra has answers to some intriguing aesthetic questions as to what is Love and Beauty, is Beauty ethereal, is Love instigated by the beautiful and are Love and Beauty the same words for one feeling, etc. The character of Chitra remains the ultimate truth by the physical base but in the steady evolution of the self. The illumination of a young princess’ mind lies in the recognition and realization that it is in Truth alone that true happiness resides.

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.